I have been thinking a great deal about “place” in the last few months while I work in Colorado. The same place can garner a wide variety of reactions from people. The desert for instance:
“The region is altogether valueless. After entering it, there is nothing to do but leave.”
-LT. EDWARD BEALE, Congress report on Arizona, 1858”
“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams.”
ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY, The Little Prince
“...nobody ever takes from the desert anything but aridity and monsters...”
― JOHN GEDDES, A Familiar Rain
“Desert beauty was "sublime" in the way that the romantic poets had used the word -- not peaceful dales but rugged mountain faces, not reassuring but daunting nature, the earth's skin and haunches, its spines and angles arching prehistorically in sunlight.”
JULENE BAIR, The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning
Cities too garner a range of feelings:
“New York! The white prisons, the sidewalks swarming with maggots, the breadlines, the opium joints that are built like palaces, the likes that are there, the lepers, the thugs, and above all, the ennui, the monotony of faces, streets, legs, houses, skyscrapers, meals, posters jobs, crimes, loves…A whole city erected over a hollow pit of nothingness.”
HENRY MILLER, Tropic of Cancer
“…New York is the most beautiful city in the world? It is not far from it. No urban night is like the night there…. Squares after squares of flame, set up and cut into the aether. Here is our poetry, for we have pulled down the stars to our will.”
We moved a fair amount when I was growing up, and as an adult I continued to criss cross the country. I can clearly remember both west and east coasts as well as the mountain west and most recently the south. For me all of the regions of the US have their beauties, and their cultural idiosyncrasies. I have found pleasure and awe in nearly every place I have ever lived or visited.
There is interesting research being done about our brains, sense of place and memory.
Many people connect to a place on a level that they cannot articulate, only feel. My sister is a self proclaimed “beach person”. It’s the place she loves the best, the place where she goes for peace and healing, the place she chooses to be when given the choice. I feel that way about the Rocky Mountains. The mountains feed something in me that goes hungry without them. Coming to Colorado after being in the South for many years has reminded me of how true that is. At the same time I live in a van so I can travel, I will not stay in Colorado.
“When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back; the more one comes to know them, the more one seeds them with the invisible crop of memories and associations that will be waiting for you when you come back, while new places offer up new thoughts, new possibilities.”
I will always come back to these high places, to these mountains, but I am to curious and restless a person to stay in one place anymore. Living in a van gives me the “comfortable habits” of a home place, but I can take those habits to a different location as often as suits me.